Main Engine Cut Off

Paul Allen

Very sad news. Go watch Pirates of Silicon Valley sometime this week.

On the space side of things, it’ll be interesting to see Stratolaunch’s path forward here. This is an early test of the whole “Billionaire Space Venture Without Billionaire” storyline.

For all my skepticism of Stratolaunch, it’s a major bummer that Allen never got to see the giant plane fly.

Talk of Dragon 2 Parachute Issues

Stephen Clark, for Spaceflight Now:

One major area of concern identified by McErlean involves the Crew Dragon’s parachutes, which are similar to the chutes used on SpaceX’s Dragon cargo capsule. He pointed to unspecified anomalies observed on parachutes during testing and on Dragon returns on cargo missions from the space station.

“Recent parachute testing, both using the commercial crew program qualification testing regimen and some anomalies that have been witnessed in the resupply contract, which is also handled by SpaceX, showed that there have been difficulties and problems with the parachute design,” McErlean said. “Clearly, one cannot risk crew without there being complete confidence in the parachute design.”

It’s kind of amazing that this is the first we’re hearing of this. Is this a new issue, or related to whatever caused Dragon 2 to end up with four parachutes?

T+97: SLS OIG Report, Air Force LSA Awards

I share some thoughts on the two rocket drama stories from last week: a brutal OIG report on Boeing’s work on SLS stages, and the Air Force selected three new launch vehicles to receive development funding.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 35 executive producers—Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Jamison, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Jasper, Chris, Warren, Bob, Russell, John, Moritz, Tyler, Joel, Jan, David, Grant, Mike, David, Mints, Joonas, and eight anonymous—and 186 other supporters on Patreon.

Russian MiG-31 Foxhound Carrying Mystery Launch Vehicle

Speaking of Russia, this is a story I’ve been following closely, from Tyler Rogoway and Ivan Voukadinov at The Drive:

The MiG-31, which evolved out of the MiG-25 Foxbat, has the ability to carry heavy loads to high altitudes and at very speeds approaching mach three. This makes it an ideal launch platform not just for ballistic missiles meant to strike targets on the surface of the earth, but also for small suborbital or even orbital payloads, and especially direct-ascent anti-satellite weapons. On September 14th, 2018 what appears to be just such a launch system was photographed at Zhukovsky Airport outside of Moscow by aviation photographer ShipSash.

Definitely spend some time with the incredible photo and analysis of the hardware.

Russian Officials Skeptical About Gateway

Jeff Foust, SpaceNews:

Loskutov suggested that if the Gateway was run as a NASA-led program, Russia might not be interested in being a partner.

“For the moment, all the decisions are made by NASA. It seems U.S. standards will be imposed,” he said. “For Roscosmos and the Russian Federation, limited participation is not that interesting.”

Loskutov’s comments are similar to those made by his boss, Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin, last month. Rogozin said at one meeting that “Russia simply cannot afford to take a back seat in foreign projects” like the U.S.-led Gateway, according to a report by the Russian news service Tass. A Roscosmos spokesman later clarified that Rogozin was not saying Russia would not participate in the project, at least not yet.

I mentioned this on the last episode of Off-Nominal, but it’s worth saying here, too: I’m totally fine with Russia sitting out for the Gateway. Considering the state of the Russian space industry, and specifically how Roscosmos has been handling the ISS drill hole situation, I would very much prefer them to not be involved in building any hardware that will be flying to the Moon.

If the rest of the world wasn’t beholden to them to get to the ISS, I’m pretty sure things would have broken down long ago. It’s no surprise that things seem to be straining the closer we get to Commercial Crew launches.

T+96: Blue Origin & Harris

Blue Origin and Harris announced an interesting partnership last week that’s worth discussing: Harris will be producing 5-meter fixed mesh reflector antennas that can only fit (for now) inside of New Glenn’s big fairing.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 35 executive producers—Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Jamison, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Jasper, Chris, Warren, Bob, Russell, John, Moritz, Tyler, Joel, Jan, David, Grant, Mike, David, Mints, Joonas, and eight anonymous—and 186 other supporters on Patreon.

Thanks to September Patrons

Very special thanks to the 222 of you out there supporting Main Engine Cut Off on Patreon for the month of September. Your support keeps this blog and podcast going, and most importantly, it keeps it independent.

And a huge thanks to the 35 executive producers of Main Engine Cut Off: Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Jamison, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Jasper, Chris, Warren, Bob, Russell, John, Moritz, Tyler, Joel, Jan, David, Grant, Mike, David, Mints, Joonas, and eight anonymous executive producers. I could not do this without your support, and I am extremely grateful for it.

There are some great perks for those supporting on Patreon, too. At $3 a month, you get access to the MECO Headlines podcast feed—every Friday, I run through the headlines of the week and discuss the stories that didn’t make it into the main show. And at $5 a month, you’ll get advance notice of guest appearances with the ability to contribute questions and topics to the show, and you get access to the Off-Nominal Discord—a place to hang out and discuss all things space.

We’re also getting pretty close to a goal I’ve had listen on Patreon for a while—at $1,000 a month, I’m planning on starting to stream shows and special events live!

If you want to get in on some of those perks, help us reach the streaming goal, or if you’re getting some value out of what I do here and just want to send a little value back to help support Main Engine Cut Off, head over to Patreon and do it there.

There are other ways to help support, too: head over to the shop and buy yourself a shirt or a pair of Rocket Socks, tell a friend, or post a link to something I’m writing or talking about on Twitter or in your favorite subreddit. Spreading the word is an immense help to an independent creator like myself.

Moon Express Raises $12.5 Million

Jeff Foust, for SpaceNews:

Moon Express Chief Executive Bob Richards said that the funding will support redevelopment of Launch Complex (LC) 17 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, a former Delta 2 launch site that the company is leasing from the Air Force to serve as a spacecraft development and test center.

“The $10 million will allow us to complete key renovations at LC-17 and pull the trigger on ordering long-lead flight hardware and building the spacecraft for our maiden flight, which will be synced to coincide with customer schedules for their payload readiness,” Richards said in an Oct. 1 email.

Richards added that July 2020 is a “reasonable goal” for that first mission.

Looks like all the rumblings about Moon Express folding entirely weren’t the whole story. But I do want to point out that they haven’t even started building the first flight vehicle.

Has there been a bigger sham than the Google Lunar X Prize in recent memory? We’ve recently heard announcements from past entrants, and they’re all years away from being ready to go the Moon. All the PR and bluster in the last year or two was either pure marketing, strategic deceit, or both.

T+95: September Q&A

This month, I take on questions about BE-4 and Vulcan, small launch, BFR, and human spaceflight.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 36 executive producers—Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Jamison, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Jasper, Chris, Warren, Bob, Russell, John, Moritz, Tyler, Joel, Jan, David, Grant, Barbara, Mike, David, Mints, Joonas, and eight anonymous—and 187 other supporters on Patreon.

CubeRover Officially Spins Off, Establishes Headquarters in Luxembourg

This historic agreement marks the establishment of CubeRover’s operations in the Grand Duchy as a spin out organization from Astrobotic Technology, Inc. (Astrobotic), a space robotics company based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.

The new headquarters in Luxembourg will be a hub for planetary rover design, manufacture, and assembly, as well as a one-stop shop for customers around the world to begin their planetary rover exploration programs.

I don’t really understand the decision to establish in Luxembourg. It makes sense for organizations focused on space resources, since Luxembourg has taken such a strong stance for private space property rights.

But it makes little sense for an exploration-focused organization that interfaces with landers—several of which are under active development here in the US—at a time when NASA is looking so strongly towards the Moon.

Unless CubeRover sees a very strong opportunity to get some money from the new fund that Luxembourg is establishing.